Lisa McClure's China Diary

March 26, 2000

Today, Lara and I went out with one of the many students who jumps at the chance to spend time with a 'real' foreigner and practice his English. This particular student is Tom, a 16 year old boy who speaks English much better than his fellow students. He's a very bright and polite boy, but extremely earnest, and frankly, not that interesting.

But he's been badgering me to spend time together, and I need to take my bicycle back to the shop to have it repaired, so I agreed to go with him downtown this morning. At the bicycle shop, I was greeted like the celebrity I am in town. (I performed on a local television program during the winter holiday, and even sang a song in Chinese!! so now I'm famous in Jinzhou) They repaired my bicycle with lightning speed, at no charge, and we were soon off again.

Lara has a little black metal seat attached to the back of my bicycle, facing backwards, and she rides in real style around town. Our bicycle seat is the top of the line model (it cost about $3 new). Most kids just sit on a simple rack on the back of their folks' bicycles. Lara's seat actually has a back, handlebars and feet rests, too. Of course, she doesn't wear a bicycle helmet, no such things exist in Jinzhou. But traffic moves slowly, if somewhat chaotically, so if the gods favor us, she'll survive this adventure without benefit of the sort of safety gear that is considered a necessity back home.

This morning, we visited the bookstores in town. I admit it, I'm a nut for books. And it doesn't even seem to matter much that I'm still not really literate in Chinese, I just can't keep away from the bookstores. I have been studying my Chinese characters (Hanzi) and can recognize a few hundred of them so far, enough to begin to be able to read signs and simple materials, and I got lucky today, and found 5 books that I know I can't live without. So, I was well pleased with the success of our outing.

In one of the bookstores, we picked up a little additional baggage. A young man with an overeager smile on his face approached me and welcomed me in very halting English to Jinzhou. (Oh dear, another English groupie, I thought in exasperation, as I pasted a polite smile on my face) Yes, he waited for us outside and continued to explain that he wanted to be my friend. In other countries, perhaps a woman might worry that this is an opening line for a romantic liaison, but in China, it just means that you have been recognized as a real live English Speaking Foreigner, no more, no less.

Of course, my companion, Tom, wasn't real enthusiastic about having an interloper encroach upon his territory, so we slowly moved off on our bicycles with this new groupie following along, trying to think of something inspired to say that would make an impression on me.

By the end of the block, he had thought of something. "Is this your daughter?" he asked me, and I replied, "Yes, she is." "Do you like her?", he asked me.

I thought a moment, considering my possible replies. Finally, I decided to give him a chance to rephrase the question, so I asked him, "Do I like China?". But no, he meant what he had said, and he repeated it, "Do you like your daughter?". So, with great effort to keep the overt sarcasm out of my voice, I answered him, "Yes. Do your parents like you?"

He didn't understand me the first time I said it, of course. His English is pretty bad, so I had to repeat it, and then, to give him a chance to hear the English sentence again, I asked Tom, "Do your parents like you?" Tom, of course, replied with perfect sincerity and exactly as I expected. "Of course! All parents love their children." (I don't know if Tom has ever had an original thought in his life, but you can be sure that he has remembered every moral lesson every taught to him.) By this time, the groupie realized that he'd goofed up bigtime, and gave up the chase.

So, we continued on home, waving a cheery goodbye to Tom at the market. Then, we picked up some spicy cold noodles and other lunch foods from the street vendors and headed on home to enjoy a tasty lunch, and a nap.

Around 2pm, we woke up and went out to take the #11 bus to Lara's gymnastics class in the stadium across town. We do this nearly every Saturday and Sunday afternoon since last September. Lara's still the smallest girl in her class, which consists of about a dozen girls ages 4 - 6, and she really enjoys the lessons. While Lisa has her class, I generally knit or read. Today, I was practicing my Chinese character writing. I have a workbook, and in it I trace and copy characters. It is pretty basic drill, but really does help me understand the logic of hanzi and helps me remember the words, too. (I'll always have lousy handwriting, though!)

Several times during the class, I got called into action, to help Lara with some activity or another. She's actually very talented in gymnastics, and is the very best in her class in backbends and cartwheels, etc. But she's also a bit of a clown, and often goofs off when the teacher isn't working directly with her. But for 50 yuan per month (about $6.25) I feel that we're definitely getting our money's worth, so I'm glad to see her have a chance to play with her friends and enjoy herself.

After class, we took the bus back to our side of town. As the weather has begun to warm up, I often bicycle with Lara to class and back. It's about a 40 minute ride, whether we take the bus or ride our bicycle. But I've got a cold this weekend, and just didn't feel like going by bike, so we rode on the bus. Sometimes, we get a lively crowd, interested in Lara and me, and we'll get grilled about all sorts of matters, while I can hear lots of loud sidebar conversations about us from folks who have seen us on television, read articles about us in the Jinzhou paper, or have heard about us from friends of friends, etc. But this afternoon, our ride was quiet, perhaps in part because the bus was crowded and Lara shared a seat with the bus conductor, while I sat in the front of the bus. Anyway, I certainly didn't mind having a quiet ride home.

As usual, we ate supper at the green restaurant near our campus. That's not it's real name, of course. I still haven't learned to read all of the characters which make up this restaurant's name, so like all illiterate people, I've had to learn to identify the place by its characteristics. And the outside of this restaurant is painted green, with green fluorescent lights in its windows. Thus, it's the green restaurant.

Lara had egg and tomato soup. I had half a jin (little over half a pound) of steamed jiaozi.

After supper, I taught four private students who are all preparing to immigrate to Canada, with their English and advice for their future lives, while Lara played with a couple of my students. After the students left at 8:30, Lara and I shared a bowl of vanilla ice cream, then got ready for bed. Both of us have been procrastinating a bit. As I began tinkering with this post to you, I could hear Lara chattering away with her 'babies'. It really made me smile, when I realized that she was talking with them in beautiful, fluent Chinese, only some of which I could understand.

Lara and I have been here in China one year so far. We plan to stay at least another year. Most likely, we'll return to the United States in the summer of 2001, so that I can get back to saving for my retirement and Lara can begin first grade. I know that when we do return, our 'typical Jinzhou Sundays' will be gone forever. So, I'm happy to share this one with you!

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